A Guide to the Ralph W. Yarborough Papers, 1836, 1844, 1911-1988
Born in Chandler, Texas, on June 8, 1903, Ralph Webster Yarborough went on to become a United States Senator and the leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in Texas during the tumultuous 1960s. After graduating from the University of Texas law school in 1927, Yarborough joined a law firm in in El Paso. The following year, Yarborough married Opal Warren and they had one son, Richard. Hired as an assistant attorney general in 1931, Yarborough endeavored to secure the interests of the Texas Permanent School Fund. His work in the Attorney General’s office resulted in establishing the right of public schools and universities to oil-fund revenues, which netted billions of dollars for public education. Yarborough’s first foray into politics came in 1936 through an appointment by his mentor Governor James Allred to a state district judgeship in Austin, an office that Yarborough secured in the election that same year. Two years later, he finished third in the race for attorney general.
During the Second World War, Yarborough completed tours in Europe and the Pacific with the Ninety-seventh Infantry Division. Discharged as a lieutenant colonel, he had earned a Bronze Star and a Combat Medal. He returned to Austin in 1946 to resume his law practice. In 1952, Yarborough waged an unsuccessful grassroots campaign in the Democratic primary against the incumbent governor Allan Shivers. The campaign marked the first of many in which Yarborough aligned himself with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and against conservatives like Shivers. Asserting that Yarborough supported forced integration and was backed by Communist labor unions striking in Port Arthur, Shivers defeated Yarborough again in the 1954 primary. After another failed bid for the governorship in 1956, this time to Senator Price Daniel, Sr., Yarborough bested a field of twenty-one candidates vying to fill Daniel’s vacated senate seat.
In the Senate, Yarborough quickly differentiated himself from his Southern Democrat colleagues by becoming one of only five Southern senators to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1957. In 1958, he was elected to a full-term, defeating primary challenger William A. "Dollar Bill" Blakley and Republican Ray Wittenburg in the election. Yarborough defeated George H. W. Bush, future U.S. president, in the senatorial race of 1964.
Until the end of his senatorial tenure in 1971, Yarborough served on the Labor and Public Welfare Committee, of which he became chairman in 1969. He also chaired the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee and served as a ranking member on the Commerce Committee. Yarborough supported many of the key bills of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. To combat poverty and decay in urban areas, Yarborough successfully worked to pass the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 and the Model Cities Program in 1966. He sponsored or cosponsored the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), the Higher Education Act (1965), the Bilingual Education Act (1967), and the GI Bill of 1966. Yarborough was also an advocate for such public-health measures as the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Community Mental Health Center Act, and the National Cancer Act of 1970. A staunch environmentalist, he co-wrote the Endangered Species Act of 1969 and sponsored the legislation establishing three national wildlife sanctuaries in Texas: Padre Island National Seashore (1962), Guadalupe Mountains National Park (1966), and the Big Thicket National Preserve (1971). His passion for history led Yarborough to sponsor bills to designate Fort Davis, Jeff Davis County, and the Alibates Flint Quarries as national monuments.
Yarborough’s record on social welfare legislation and opposition to the war in Vietnam made him a target for the moderate-conservative wing of the Texas Democratic Party. In 1970, Lloyd Bentsen, Jr., upset him in a heated senatorial primary and eventually beat George H.W. Bush for the Senate seat. In a 1972 comeback attempt, Yarborough failed to make it out of the primary, losing to Barefoot Sanders, who went on to defeat at the hands of Republican incumbent, John Tower.
Permanently retiring from politics, Yarborough returned to his law practice in Austin. As an avid bibliophile and collector of Western Americana and Texana, he amassed a substantial library. From 1983 to 1987, he served on the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Yarborough died in Austin on January 27, 1996, and was buried in the State Cemetery.
Odintz, Mark. "Yarborough, Ralph Webster"Handbook of Texas Online , accessed March 23, 2012. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fyags.
Cox, Patrick and Michael L. Collins."Ralph Yarborough"In Profiles in Power: Twentieth- century Texans in Washington. Edited by Kenneth Hendrickson, Jr., Michael L. Collins and Patrick Cox, 145-171. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004.
The Ralph Webster Yarborough Papers, 1836, 1844, 1911-1988, comprise newspaper clippings, correspondence, legislative records, campaign materials, speeches, press releases, research files, financial records, audiovisual recordings, photographs, scrapbooks, invitations, and maps, which document the life and political career of U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough. Correspondence includes personal and political letters with family, friends, constituents, and political colleagues. The bulk of the correspondence pertains to Yarborough’s activities as a United States Senator from Texas.
Containing bills, grants, correspondence, and research files, legislative records document Yarborough’s tenure on various Senate committees as well as his efforts promoting, education, civil rights, historic preservation, environmental protection, and gun control. The records also highlight his work with various executive departments, including the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Housing and Urban Development, and Health, Education, and Welfare.
Arranged chronologically, campaign materials consist of brochures, speeches, press releases, audiovisual recordings, bumper stickers, contributor lists, financial records, calendars, and correspondence, often filed by county. Replete with newspaper clippings, stamped envelopes, press releases, and correspondence, research files and scrapbooks reflect Yarborough’s political and personal interests and trace his political career and legislative accomplishments. Invitations and requests detail fundraisers, benefits, and conferences Yarborough attended, requests to be appointed to government posts, and requests for recommendations for into service academies.
Maps depict Texas cities, counties, and geographical features as well as Civil War battlefields, national parks, and cities and countries outside of Texas and the Untied States. Comprised of films, recordings, and photographs in a variety of formats, audiovisual recordings primarily pertain to Yarborough’s political career, including debates, reports to constituents, interviews, speeches, and campaign commercials.
Use of audio material by appointment only; please contact sound archivist for more information.
Use of video material by appointment only; please contact repository for more information.
Access to portions of this collection are restricted. Contact repository for further information.
Most of this collection is stored remotely. Advance notice required for retrieval. Please contact repository.
Ralph W. Yarborough Papers, 1836, 1844, 1911-1988, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
This collection was processed by archives staff in 1991.
Subsequent revisions were made by Mark Firmin, March 2012.
Detailed Description of the Collection